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922 South Morton Street
Bloomington, IN, 47403
United States

812-202-6789

Cardinal Spirits is a craft distillery in Bloomington, Indiana that specializes in producing extraordinary spirits from local ingredients.  

The Drop

The Drop is your source for all things craft. 

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GET TO KNOW: RATHGEBERS' GARTEN + CSA

Erica Sagon

Do you remember this little dish of deliciousness from our menu last spring and summer? Known as Peter Rabbit, it featured the most flavorful, petite veggies — rosy radishes and tender carrots with their roots and stems still showing, and the snappiest sugar snap peas, plus young turnips and fennel which you didn't even KNOW you liked raw — with a housemade herb-y dip.

Peter Rabbit couldn't have been more simple — crudités, is all — and yet it was a fast and furious hit at the distillery.

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We hadn't set out to put veggies-and-dip on the menu, because, uh, veggie trays are not known for their wow factor.

But then we came across the veggies, grown by Dustin Rathgeber, the farmer/owner/veggie-whisperer behind Rathgebers' Garten, a certified organic farm in Odon, about 35 miles southwest of Bloomington.

The veggies were so good, they put themselves on the menu. They were meant to shine on their own. Peter Rabbit was born, and we sourced other produce from Dustin for other dishes, too. His produce is grown thoughtfully and organically (and then some), and best of all, it has flavor — so much flavor, guys! — as though it came from someone's personal garden.

In a way, it has. Dustin is a one-man-show. 

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We buy food directly from this farmer when possible, and you can, too. Dustin is offering limited CSA shares this year with roughly 60 varieties of produce, and a weekly pick-up spot is right here at Cardinal Spirits.

There are perks to picking up your CSA at the distillery: a 15% off coupon in your box every week, good toward food and drink at the distillery that day; and, an option to add on Cocktails To Go, a bottle of ready-to-drink Cardinal Spirits cocktails tucked into your box at pick-up.

Dustin's story, in short, is this: he worked as a carpenter and a mechanic in Indianapolis, but in 2015, he returned to his family’s dormant 140-acre farm and revived an 8.5-acre plot into the certified organic Rathgebers’ Garten.

On an uncharacteristically warm day in February, Dustin took a break from planting kohlrabi seeds to answer 13 questions about this farm and CSA.

  — A REAL CSA SHARE FROM RATHGEBERS' GARTEN —

— A REAL CSA SHARE FROM RATHGEBERS' GARTEN —

Dustin, what made you decide to start farming?

I wanted to start my own business, and I always enjoyed gardening as a hobby no matter what my career was. I had my small garden in my backyard (in Indianapolis). Then, I converted all my flower boxes into more garden space, so I had corn growing by my front door and tomatoes by my sidewalk. All my neighbors probably thought I was crazy. I decided to make a go of it at farming.

I get to watch everything grow and progress. It’s nice this time of year to be able to walk into the greenhouse and see what most people don’t see until April or May.

Tell us about your farm.

My parents bought the property in 1997, next to the house I grew up in. The farm itself is 140 acres, and we’re about 35 miles southwest of Bloomington. It was an old dairy farm/conventional farm when we bought it in 1997. We converted part of it into a fish farm that my dad had when I was in high school and college. And then the fields, we used to harvest alfalfa and put up hay when I was in high school. That was the only crop we grew out there. For the past 20 years it’s sat fallow, there was nothing.

The area that I have certified organic is 8.5 acres of that 140 acres. It sets up on the second highest point in Daviess County, so I don’t have to worry about runoff from a conventional farm.

  — A GLIMPSE AT THE FARM —

— A GLIMPSE AT THE FARM —

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You refer to those 8.5 acres as a “garden.” But 8.5 acres is something!

I guess it’s just the size. We call the property the farm, but I always think of it (the organic plot) as having a giant garden. It’s not your conventional farm. I’m not on a tractor or a combine. I’m out there with a garden hoes and tillers.

And you do everything yourself, by hand?

Pretty much — 99.99% of the time, it’s just me out in the field. This time of year it’s making sure the seedlings have enough water, and that the temperature and the humidity is right in the greenhouse. I have to check on that at least every 4 hours, through the day and through the night.

Right now, I’m trying to get new sinks installed and things like that, making sure there’s not loose ends, because once March and April and May get here, it’s go-go-go out in the garden every day.

  — GREENHOUSE AND GARDEN —

— GREENHOUSE AND GARDEN —

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What do you grow, and what are you known for?

Right now, I’m doing about 60 different varieties of produce. I try to have anything and everything that you can find at the grocery store that can be grown in the state of Indiana.

The thing people go crazy over is my lettuce. And carrots — that’s the other big thing. I grow a super-super-sweet carrot. I’ll have sweet corn, cucumbers, all kinds of summer and winter squash, cantaloupe, watermelon, radishes, beets, turnips. 

Will you grow anything new this year?

Artichokes!

What’s the most satisfying thing to grow?

Carrots. It’s amazing how big of carrots you pull out of the ground. That’s always fun. The other is lettuce, because it’s such a fast harvest.

What’s your favorite to eat?

Probably sugar snap peas. I could eat snap peas all year long. I wish we had milder summers so we could grow them in the summer. They’re done in the middle of June at the latest.

  — GARLIC (LEFT) + RADISHES (RIGHT) —

— GARLIC (LEFT) + RADISHES (RIGHT) —

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Rathgebers’ is a certified organic farm — which means there are standards for everything from planting to fertilization to storage to transportation — and you go a step beyond that.

On top of following the USDA guidelines, I don’t even use any of the organic-approved herbicides or pesticides. I think that, too often, things hit the market without enough R&D. You don’t know what’s going happen in 50 years to something that people are consuming now.

Nature has its way of figuring it out. Last year, I had aphids that got onto some of my zucchini plants, but within days I had thousands and thousands of ladybugs that ate the aphids. When you’ve got an excess of prey, the predators are soon to follow. Let nature take its course.

  — SEEDLINGS GET AROUND-THE-CLOCK CARE —

— SEEDLINGS GET AROUND-THE-CLOCK CARE —

What’s the next hot veggie?

Cauliflower. Riced cauliflower has really hit the West Coast market, so I think around here, especially in Bloomington, it’s going to be higher in demand. Typically broccoli always outsold cauliflower but I think it’s going to even out, or cauliflower will take over.

For your CSA shares, how do you keep the variety going week after week?

I try to put a package together that I would want to eat. Out of 20 weeks (last year), I don’t think we had two weeks that were exactly the same. There was always something new every week. For half shares, they get the same variety that the full share is getting. I never want to overload someone with one thing.

  — A GREENHOUSE ON THE FARM GETS PLANTS A HEAD-START —

— A GREENHOUSE ON THE FARM GETS PLANTS A HEAD-START —

What can people expect in the full and half shares of your CSA?

Usually at the beginning of the season, they’re going to get honey to start with from one of our beehives (Dustin notes that the honey is not certified organic). You’ll get lettuce and a lot of the cold crops: broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage, plus carrots, radishes, early turnips and beets, kale and chard, and sugar snap peas.

A bit later, you’ll have peppers, eggplant, sweet corn, beans, and tomatoes, and then a little bit later, onions, okra and then we’ll swing back into the later crops, going back to turnips and beets. I also do dill, cilantro, basil, and oregano, and they’re just offered in season. I try to get dill the same time as cucumber, so if someone wanted to make a batch of pickles, they could.

If anyone wants to buy something for storage — I get some customers that want 40 pounds of zucchini to make zucchini bread, for example — CSA customers are always welcome to check in for more.

I do offer egg shares if people want to add those (Dustin points out that the eggs are not certified organic).

  — MORE REAL CSA SHARES —

— MORE REAL CSA SHARES —

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Each share also gets some of your hickory syrup. Maybe that was a bit of a spoiler, but it's one of the things that makes your CSA special! Tell us more about it.

You don’t make hickory syrup by tapping a tree. It’s like a simple syrup. I collect shagbark hickory and toast it in the oven, which gives it a smoked flavor. I make a tea extract with the bark, reduce it and make the syrup.

Some people use it as a sweetener in their coffee. We use it on pancakes, waffles, French toast. It’s also really good to glaze ribs or ham, with because you can get that smoked flavor without actually smoking it.



THE SOURCE: GOOD FOLKS COFFEE CO.

Erica Sagon

Did you hear the good news? We're expanding distribution for the first time outside of Indiana — to Kentucky. 

Louisville, we're coming for you first! You'll see our spirits in Louisville bars, restaurants and retailers very soon. 

You'll definitely want to keep an eye out for Songbird Craft Coffee Liqueur, our magical elixir that is made with a ton of roasted coffee, Bourbon vanilla beans and cane sugar. 

We've given Songbird Craft Coffee Liqueur a special twist, just for Kentucky. The liqueur is infused with roasted coffee beans from Good Folks Coffee Co., the wholesale coffee roaster in the Shelby Park neighborhood of Louisville. 

We know how important it is to buy local and support fellow small businesses, so we wanted to partner with the best roaster in Louisville for the Kentucky edition of our coffee liqueur. (Meanwhile, here at our home base in Bloomington, Ind., we source coffee beans from the terrific Hopscotch Coffee for the Indiana edition of the liqueur.)

Naturally, we want you to get to know Good Folks. 

Co-owners Matt Argo and Zach Hensley relaunched the brand just a few months ago (the company was formerly known as Argo Sons Coffee — that name might ring a bell for Louisville folks). Good Folks' beans are sold by the bag around Louisville at at Whole Foods, Rainbow Blossom Natural Food Markets and ValuMarket, and brewed at Please & Thank You and Press on Market, two of the city's specialty coffee shops (and highly Instagrammed ones, at that). The roaster supplies customers as far north as Chicago and Fort Wayne, and to the south in Arkansas and Tennessee.

We talked to Matt from Good Folks about the beans that went into our coffee liqueur, what makes his roastery special, and how to tell if you're drinking good coffee:

Cardinal: We’re curious how a roaster makes a cup of coffee in the morning. What’s your go-to method?

Matt: For me at home in the morning, it’s usually drip coffee in a coffee pot. We need to just push a button and move on. On the weekends, we do French press at home. At the roastery, I drink espresso, but if I’m brewing straight up coffee, it’s Chemex, nine times out of 10.

Cardinal: Where did the name Good Folks come from? 

Matt: We’re getting coffee from good folks on the farm level and we’re roasting coffee for good folks at the cafe, restaurant and grocery level. There’s just this long chain of people and that’s kind of what our company is about. We just want to do good by the people that we roast for.

Cardinal: What made you decide to get into the coffee business?

Matt: I was as in the military for eight years before I started this company and did some traveling. And then when I got out, my wife and I did some more traveling to different parts of Africa and elsewhere, and what we noticed is everywhere you go, you need to build relationships. And doing that over coffee is a really easy thing. We just noticed this common pattern, and loved the idea of maybe having a coffee shop one day. As research began, I started thinking, I’m really interested in roasting. That’s kind of how the company became a wholesale coffee roaster instead of a retail coffee shop.

Cardinal: The labels on your bags of coffee say things like “Fruit-forward and fun" and "Balanced, round & smooth," instead of the country of origin of the beans or their type. What made you want to go this route?

Matt: We want to stay out of people’s way, in a good way.

We didn’t want people to be overwhelmed with, you know, a pacamara or caturra varietal from so-and-so’s farm and all this crazy stuff they can’t pronounce. It was becoming really confusing in the grocery store.

Cardinal: Give us a primer — what do you roast?

Matt: We’ve got our packaging lined up in three colors — a black bag, a craft bag and a white bag. Our black bag is our espresso line. Our craft bag is our blends, and all of our blends are either regionally inspired or travel inspired. Our three blends right now are Day Tripper, Carry On and Globe Trotter. And then our white bags are our lines that are “relationship coffee.”

Cardinal: Which means?

Matt: Well, we have a relationship down in Colombia — I was there back in February — and basically we’ll go to auctions and bid on coffee from farmers that have never sold their coffee outside of their own country.

Good Folks is considered very, very small. Stumptown or Intelligentsia, they’re small. And yet they’re massive compared to us. There are things that they can get that we can’t get, and there are things we can get that they can’t get.

We can go in and buy 10,000-20,000 pounds of coffee from a farm — just kind of buy their whole farm — and (larger roasters) can’t do that, it’s just too delicate for them. But we can do that, and grow with the farmer, and they’ll grow with us. We can tell that story and say, that’s our coffee from these guys, and no one else has it.

Cardinal: Tell us more about the black bag, Fast Track, which is the Good Folks blend that goes into our coffee liqueur?

Matt: Fast Track is our espresso, and it doubles as a dark roast. It’s got a nice chocolatey, caramely sweetness to it. It’s not crazy dark and it’s not light at all — it’s just that happy medium. In coffee drinks, it really pushes through milk or cream. I was really happy you guys chose this one for the liqueur.

Cardinal: How do people know if they’re drinking good coffee? You can probably tell right away, but what about the rest of us?

Matt: You shouldn’t have to be told that you’re drinking something good. It’s definitely subjective and it’s definitely an acquired taste, so as you drink more your palate develops. A lady that owns a grinder company told me she knows it’s a good cup of coffee when she finishes it and doesn’t realize she drank the whole cup until it’s gone.

So, that’s what I tell people all the time: if you finish it, and it went down easy, and you want more, that’s a good cup of coffee.

Cardinal: What’s considered fresh coffee?

Matt: That’s a great question. For me, this (cup I’m drinking) was roasted yesterday. But that’s not feasible for most people — you don’t buy coffee every day at the market, two ounces at a time.

I think if you get something that’s been roasted within a week or two, that’s really nice. It also depends on how dark it is. If it’s really dark coffee, it loses freshness easier, whereas really light roasted coffee will keep its freshness a little bit longer.

Cardinal: OK, forget coffee for a minute. When it comes to booze, what do you like to drink?

Matt: I like bourbon — I’m required to say that. And I also like gin, and I really like tequila. Those are kind of my three go-tos.

Photos provided by Good Folks

 



THE SOURCE: Blu Boy Chocolate

Erica Sagon

From our bar stools to our cocktail ingredients, everything that we source here
at Cardinal Spirits has a story. Eventually, we'll tell you all of them.

 Blu Boy chocolates filled with Cardinal Spirits vodka.

Blu Boy chocolates filled with Cardinal Spirits vodka.

If you think they only way to enjoy our vodka is to drink it, then you've missed the corner of our menu where we offer chocolates filled with our vodka. Oh yes. It's a crazy-good idea. They're available only at the distillery and they're made just for us by Blu Boy Chocolate, a sweet little shop in downtown Bloomington that's known for hand-made gourmet chocolates and desserts, plus espresso drinks.

Some of the chocolates have patterned and hand-painted shells that are so pretty, you almost hate to take a bite — like ours, imprinted with tiny red cardinals. But you must bite, otherwise you'd miss out on superb ganache-filled chocolates scented with blood orange, jasmine and ancho chile, and hand-rolled truffles in flavors like raspberry dark-chocolate. Meanwhile, the pastry case at Blu Boy is stocked with French macarons, salted caramel brownies and layer cakes. And let's not forget the shop's signature ice cream sandwich, made with local honey ice cream.

We chatted with Dani Doyle, Blu Boy's COO, about Cardinal's specialty chocolates and more:

 Cardinal chocolate shells

Cardinal chocolate shells

 Cardinal chocolates filled with ganache

Cardinal chocolates filled with ganache

WITH THE CARDINAL CHOCOLATES, WHEN DOES THE VODKA COME INTO PLAY?

The vodka comes in with the ganache — the filling. Once the chocolate and heavy cream are all mixed up and you've got your traditional ganache, that's when we'll add the vodka in.  There's no set ratio, it's just what tastes right. 

AND CAN YOU ACTUALLY TASTE THE VODKA?

With Cardinal vodka, which has such a distinctive taste, you can definitely pick that up. And it makes the ganache a little more soft. 

 Lavender and dark chocolate-ganache chocolates.

Lavender and dark chocolate-ganache chocolates.

 Hand-painted chocolate shells, ready to be filled with ganache.

Hand-painted chocolate shells, ready to be filled with ganache.

BLU BOY'S GANACHE-FILLED CHOCOLATES WITH PRETTY PAINTED SHELLS ARE SO STRIKING — HOW ARE THOSE MADE?

Those are hand-painted with colored cocoa butter (by chocolatier and Blu Boy owner David Fletcher). He'll take a little paintbrush and brush the insides of the molds. That'll dry, and then he'll pour chocolate on top of that (to create the top of the shell). Then he'll pipe in the ganache, then pour more chocolate to seal them. 

The hand-painted chocolates take about three days to make. Hand painting the chocolate shells is one day, then filling them is another day, and then sealing them off is another day. You can't really rush that. It just takes three days to do. 

SAY IT IS SOMEONE'S FIRST VISIT TO BLU BOY. WHAT SHOULD THEY KNOW WHEN THEY WALK IN?

I describe this place as the gem of the from-scratch bakery. We don't use any mixes. All of our chocolates are made here. All the pastries are made here. The ice cream is made here. Everything we sell, we put a lot of love and pride into.

We get all of our honey from Hunter's Honey in Martinsville. We get eggs from Poplar Ridge Farm, and we get those hand delivered every week. And with our coffee, we partnered with Brown County Coffee Roasters for a special Blu Boy espresso blend that we use for all of our espresso beverages. 

 

 Fleur de sel caramels

Fleur de sel caramels

 Honey ice cream sandwich.

Honey ice cream sandwich.

IF SOMEONE WANTS TO TRY JUST ONE BLU BOY CHOCOLATE — JUST ONE — WHAT WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?

Fleur de sel caramel. It's hands down the most popular things we sell, and really encapsulates what we do here. These are dipped in chocolate individually and salted individually. Each little piece of chocolate is done singularly. It's not mass produced or anything you can rush through, and that's what we're all about: taking our time and making a really great product.

OK, LET'S MOVE ON TO DESSERTS. WHICH ONE IS A MUST-TRY?

An ice cream sandwich with our honey ice cream — you can't go wrong with that. Our chocolate chip cookies are rolled in cinnamon sugar, and it pairs nicely with honey ice cream. The honey ice cream in and of itself is unique. It's not a vanilla base with honey flavor, it's just honey ice cream.

 

 Dani Doyle of Blu Boy.

Dani Doyle of Blu Boy.

 A build-your-own box of chocolates.

A build-your-own box of chocolates.

WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE BLU BOY CHOCOLATE?

Over Valentine's Day we'll do a chocolate called Love's True Kiss, which is aleppo pepper. Unlike like our ancho chile chocolate which we have on a regular basis (and doesn't have too much heat), this one is actually spicy, like really spicy. I think that's such a unique experience because when most people have chocolate they think of this smooth, sweet, mellow chocolate experience and Love's True Kiss just blows that out of the water. It's spicy but very, very good.

WHEN YOU WERE YOUNGER, DID YOU EVER PICK A PIECE OF CHOCOLATE OUT OF A VARIETY BOX, TAKE A BITE AND FIND SOME GROSS GOO INSIDE? WASN'T THAT JUST THE WORST?

I am super allergic to peanut butter, so I never had the random chocolate thing happen because ... I couldn't. I was super paranoid. But, we do include a description of the chocolates with our boxes. 



THE SOURCE: THE CHOCOLATE MOOSE

Jonna Mary Yost

From our bar stools to our cocktail ingredients, everything that we source here
at Cardinal Spirits has a story. Eventually, we'll tell you all of them.

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In towns across America, there's that one ice cream shop where everyone lines up on summer nights, hoping that the two dozen people in front of them have their order and money ready (they never do). In Bloomington, that place is The Chocolate Moose.

The tiny, old-school stand has a giant menu of homemade ice cream, soft serve and dairy-free flavors, served simply in cones or teased into shakes, floats, freezes, sundaes and parfaits. It's the kind of place where you might spend the entire time in line making a decision, and still not know your order when you get to the window.

The Moose's ice cream can be found at stores and restaurants in town, too. In fact, The Moose makes two varieties of spiked ice cream, just for Cardinal: Moscow Mule with our vodka, and one with our Songbird Craft Coffee Liqueur. We sell them both by the scoop and by the half-pint at the distillery. 

We caught up with Justin Loveless, the owner of the Chocolate Moose, to get the scoop on this Bloomington icon:

CARDINAL: We are a long way from moose country. How did this Moose come to be?

JUSTIN: The original owners, the May family, built a restaurant in the ‘50s. Their son was not interested in the food industry, but loved the idea of homemade ice cream. When the Mays retired, they handed the restaurant to their son who opened it as an ice cream shop called The Penguin. Sometime in the ‘80s the May brothers sold the shop, only to buy it back a couple of years later. At that point they lost the rights to the name, and rather than spend extra money buying it back, they changed the name to The Chocolate Moose.

 Strawberry sundae.

Strawberry sundae.

 A 50-cent googly-eyed Torch Cone.

A 50-cent googly-eyed Torch Cone.

Say it's your first time at the Chocolate Moose, and you are nervously looking over the colossal menu. What do you order?

Keep it simple so you don't get embarrassed in front of the 30 people standing in line around you. Just order a simple cup of the homemade ice cream.

Which ice cream flavor is most popular?

The top selling item is the legendary Grasshopper — homemade mint Oreo. I suggest throwing some hot fudge on it.

What do you suggest when it comes to a Blizz (ice cream blended with your choice stir-ins like brownies, cookie dough and Reese's cups)?

I'm a chocolate/peanut butter guy, so I go with the homemade Moose Dream (homemade chocolate ice cream with peanut butter cups) with Heath bar stirred in.

Tell us about The Moose's dairy-free options. 

Our homemade vegan ice cream is very popular. It is a coconut milk–based ice cream instead of dairy–based. The majority of the sweetener is agave nectar. We currently have Vegan Vanilla, Chocolate, Strawberry and Grasshopper. Special batches, such as Cookie Dough and Brown County Coffee, are made fairly often as well.

 Moscow Mule ice cream made with Cardinal Spirits vodka.

Moscow Mule ice cream made with Cardinal Spirits vodka.

The Moose is now on menus all around town, serves Uel Zing coffee and Brown County coffee ice cream, and has been making special appearances in places like Upland and now Cardinal Spirits. What's the idea behind all these collaborations?

It’s a win­-win situation. Collaborating offers co-­promotion and allows two brand communities to come together. Ice cream made with a vodka base is fairly simple. I had made that type of ice cream previously for other restaurants, so dialed in on the Moscow Mule for Cardinal Spirits. Then we moved to Songbird Craft Coffee Liqueur. Our winter project will be to pair with local breweries. Beer ice cream is a different animal.

What is in store for the Moose this fall?

We recently signed with Indiana University to be at sporting events, which is very exciting. We will have a stand that offers five or six different flavors available in half pints. The half pint is our newest twist.

 Crowds at Food Truck Friday.

Crowds at Food Truck Friday.

 Instagram it!

Instagram it!

On Fridays, a bunch of food trucks gather in your parking lot to serve lunch and dinner. How did Food Truck Friday get going?

It started as a fundraiser for the Project School at Bryan Park. Then we thought having food trucks would be a great way to utilize our parking lot. It’s fairly small overhead for us, and a lot of fun. Now we are theming each Friday, giving some a music festival feel, while others are focused on other big crowd pleasers.

The line outside the moose is almost always theme park worthy. Will ‘the box’ ever expand or change to meet the demand of anxious ice cream connoisseurs?

The theme is here to stay. Even with the possibility of future expansion, we would keep the feel of the place and all of the new additions would be made as replicas to what we currently have in place. The Moose has a footprint here in Bloomington.

 Hey! We'll take one of everything.

Hey! We'll take one of everything.

 A peek inside the tiny ice cream shop.

A peek inside the tiny ice cream shop.

How does a tiny ice cream stand stay alive year­-round?

Wholesale and our ice-delivery program is what keeps us going in the winter. What started as a summertime boutique blew up — a lot of people want our ice cream, so we now distribute to a lot of local grocery stores around town, including the IGA’s in Spencer, Unionville, and Brown County. As for the ice, we deliver to bars after hours, and cater to big events like weddings and happenings on campus. Just a couple months ago we put in an ice kiosk. It’s pretty sweet.

Photos by Jonna Yost and Cardinal Spirits.